plants and animals

She hunts for aliens under the Baikal ice



Few would venture underneath the ice of Russia's Lake Baikal, largest and most ancient freshwater lake in the world. Strange creatures exist beneath the frozen surface, creatures straight out of science fiction. But one woman dares to hunt for them, armed with SCUBA gear, a camera and a good dose of persistence.

Wildlife photographers are an intrepid group of people, venturing into strange and terrifying locations away from civilization to document and gather information about some of the most well-known and publicized wild animals. The quality of photography has improved with almost every technological change that occurs.

We got the opportunity to speak to one of the finest of them all, Russian photographer Olga Kamenskaya. Her images bring to life the Baikal giant amphipod Acanthogrammarus victorii, a strange, spiny little monster that lives under the icy grip of Lake Baikal.

These beasts are among the biggest of their kind and Olga's photography has captured their otherworldly crimson beauty in great detail and splendor. They roam among ice floes, scavenge on the bottom or even swim through the depths of the lake like red beacons in a dark void. Kamenskaya's subject is a world dominated by this veritable inland sea, a place of frigid waters and strange powerful forces formerly known only to a few.

Vasika: You're quite well-known as a wildlife photographer. What drew you to this subject?

Olga: My experience as a wildlife and underwater photographer is more than 14 years now. It was diving with my son at the beginning. And then I understand I cannot dive without underwater camera. I need to show underwater life. So my worldwide expeditions (mainly in cold water regions) give me a lot of possibilities to be inside wildlife and then translate it to the people.

Vasika: How do you normally get your work across to people? Do you work with any conservationists at present? Or biologists? What is a day in the life of a professional photographer like?

Olga: I travel a lot, however last 7 years my main project is Baikal Lake (Siberia, Russia). I work with few conservation organizations in this region, reservations, museums, and with biologists of course. We organized many expeditions around Baikal (2-3 times per year) in different seasons, diving boat safari, ice jeep safari, taiga river diving, helicopter trips... As the result of this work we have many Baikal exhibitions around Russia, Europe, China. I issued big photo album "Baikal. The Kingdom of Water and Ice", and we plan to continue this great work.

Vasika: Most wildlife photographers prefer to work in well-known biodiversity hotspots like the Amazon and the grasslands of Africa due to having so many charismatic animals. But I see that you have been attracted to Lake Baikal most of all. Could you tell me why?

Olga: Baikal is one of the great places in the world (UNESCO Heritage). It is biggest and deepest (1637m) lake with 20% of worldwide freshwater resource (really pure drinking water) with great endemic wildlife. So I think that Baikal is more biodiversity hotspot than others with more charismatic animals. And we should do all our best to protect this unique lake and safe it for our children.

Vasika: I often see how most photographers will mention that a close encounter with an animal they love was the greatest experience in their career. What would your biggest moment be? What is your personal favorite image?

Olga: Many years ago I met Baikal ice – real amazing, very clear, transparent ice with beautiful formations as well as underwater. Baikal ice diving - the best ice diving in the world. This is my greatest experience and favorite image.

Vasika: Also, about the Baikal giant amphipods Acanthogrammarus, which we are quite curious about. They are not the most talked-about animals in the world but you have really captured them in all their spiny, alien beauty. Do tell us a bit about them. And what was your experience with them like?

Olga: Baikal giant amphipod Acanthogrammarus is Baikal endemic, this animal looks like not really Earth animal. 350 species amphipods live in Baikal (45% of all world fresh water amphipods). That why is very interesting to shoot them for science purposes.

Vasika: And finally, tell us, what does the future of wildlife photography look like?

Olga: Wild nature is not enough known and we will have much more possibilities for wildlife photography, of course if people will be very delicate with nature and don't destroy it.

Image Credit: Olga Kamenskaya